During the press junket for Frozen, Idina Menzel was asked (more than once) about a possible film adaptation of Wicked. As Menzel pointed out, unsubstantiated rumors about a Wicked movie have been circulating for years. However, the financial success of recent movie musicals and the apparent resurgence of interest in adaptations of Frank L. Baum’s work do make a film adaptation of Wicked seem like the next logical step. Is this a good thing? Well … it depends. The tone, visuals, story and even characters of Wicked make it an especially difficult musical to translate to the screen (frankly, I’d love an HBO miniseries based on Gregory Maguire’s novel). In the wrong hands it could be a huge embarrassment. However, if done well it could be a landmark in musical adaptations. If. Done. Well. Three things are necessary (in my mind) for this to be even remotely possible.
1. Quality Casting
For the love of all that is good in this world, cast theater actors. The inferiority of musical film casts in comparison to their Broadway and London counterparts is so staggering you’d think there was a law against putting trained singers on screen. It doesn’t have to be this way. Studios just have to cast based on talent rather than name recognition and those best qualified to sing these songs are actors who have already successfully performed them on stage. It worked in the casting for Eponine and Enjolras in Les Miserables (oh that they had done the same for Cosette, Javert and Madame Thenardier– that’s right I said it) and it can work for Wicked. Of course, musical theater celebrities aren’t as widely known as Hollywood celebrities and it might cost the film in ticket sales to take this approach but the final product would be stronger. Shouldn’t that should be justification enough?
2. Elphaba Must Be Ugly
It’s a curious thing about Wicked fan art: it consistently depicts Elphaba as attractive. Yes, she still has green skin but she has a nice body, pretty eyes and a beautiful face. It seems that now that the Wicked Witch of the West is good, fans are reluctant to picture her as ugly … but that’s precisely what she is. In Maguire’s novel she’s described as having a flat chest, long face and a “chin … that could slice a salami” and in the play even Fiyero has to “[look] at things another way” to see her as beautiful. The absence of prosthetics in the theater is forgivable but in film Elphaba’s facial features would be too up close to ignore. The importance of making Elphaba ugly in the movie, whether by casting an unattractive actress or adding prosthetics, is that it challenges the audience. The human instinct to fear the ugly is reinforced when only antagonists are unattractive. Elphaba could be a perfect heroine for confronting this but only if the filmmakers realize that green paint alone isn’t enough. They have to cast an actress with (or else give her) a long face and jutting chin for Elphaba to honestly evoke the same aversion from the audience that she does from the characters- which would make her charism and strength’s ability to endear her to the audience all the more meaningful. Otherwise, the moral about beauty and “looking at things another way” is hollow.
3. Change the Ending
As painful as it is to admit, Elphaba and Fiyero should not survive the movie. They don’t make it in the book and they shouldn’t make it in the movie. As pleasant as the twists that Fiyero turned into the scarecrow and Elphaba escaped through a trap door are, the play is weaker for them. How much more powerful would “No Good Deed” be if Fiyero actually had been killed? How much sadder would it make “For Good” if Elphaba sang it while truly preparing for death? Despite some campy songs and made up words, Wicked is fundamentally quite a dark story that explores the consequences people face for standing up for what’s right. Robbing Elphaba and Fiyero of their deaths doesn’t completely undermine this, as they are still forced to leave Oz forever but it does diminish the impact of what could have otherwise been a tremendously powerful ending. It’s too late for the play. But not for the movie.
Honestly, I would prefer it if Wicked never made it to the screen. But if studios will a film adaptation into existence- and I suspect they will eventually- I just hope that at least one of these points occurs to a studio executive.